By Pastor Chris Symes
A few weeks ago on St. Patrick’s Day, sitting on the porch of our large shed in the backyard I told my son the story of a young man named Patrick who had been kidnapped by raiders and taken to a large island called Ireland where he was forced
to work the rugged and hilly landscape as a shepherd for a number of years. I told him about how he met Christ on those cold nights, shivering and crying out to God for help. I shared about that providential opportunity that came before him after a long time away to board a boat that would take him back home to Britain. I also shared how it wasn’t long after arriving back home that he felt a divine urging to go back to Ireland and preach the gospel to the very people who were once his captors. I spoke of the bravery and faithfulness of Patrick that, as some have said, changed the heart of the whole nation.
When I finished the story, my son labeled it a “mean story” because of the villains in it, referring to the raiders who stole Patrick away. I think I would label the story a “love story”.
I am moved by the story of the man we simply refer to as Saint Patrick. He was tough as nails after being kidnapped and enslaved, yet going back to the very violent rabble of humanity that enslaved him in the first place. He goes down in history as one of the most effective and successful evangelists the Church has ever known. It’s a story of courage, a story of heroism, a story of survival, and, yes, a story with villains. But we cannot overlook the underlying theme throughout the whole story: love.
Patrick was able to speak the gospel so effectively to the Irish, not because of clever analogies and three-leaf clovers. The Irish were willing to listen to him, because of his authenticity and the fact that he wasn’t afraid of them. In fact, he was able to address their fears. What made him so effective was his ability to see and understand the deepest anxieties of the Irish folk, anxieties that had been haunting them for centuries. Seeing and understanding these things Patrick was able to speak directly to them and show how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus gave them a hope so they wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore.
There is no other explanation for the special connection Patrick fostered with the Irish than love. That’s what he possessed for them, and that’s what the Irish saw in Patrick.
I see love all over this story. It is love that made Patrick so effective and so able to reach the Irish. It was love that helped him speak about the gospel in ways no one had ever done. It was love that stimulated his creativity in profound ways. It was the love of God in him that enabled him to stand fearlessly before the Irish and proclaim Jesus. Love gives special sight.
Love enables awareness to the most important and significant things. Love gives that special insight that people may truly see and truly hear. Love truly convinces and truly convicts, because love comes from God (1 John 4:7). Patrick was a great evangelist because he was a great lover.
So how are we asking God to foster His love within us as we seek to make disciples and share the gospel with our neighbors?